MANILA: More than 5,200 Filipinos are waiting to flee the fighting in Syria but bureaucratic requirements are delaying their return, a foreign department official said Monday.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said a total of 5,228 Filipinos have signed up at the Philippine Embassy in Damascus for repatriation, the largest number recorded since the outbreak of fighting.
Seguis, who is acting as a special envoy to help speed the repatriation of the Filipinos, said foreign workers leaving Syria are still required to complete documentary requirements and obtain an exit visa before they can go.
Some 1,493 Filipinos are currently having their papers processed and could return home "in a few weeks", he said.
The rest are still hoping the fighting will die down but Seguis warned this was unlikely.
"It's going to be a long, drawn-out internal conflict among the Syrian people," he told reporters.
He called on the more than 7,000 Filipinos still in Syria to evacuate while air and land routes out of that country are still open.
Seguis added that many of the Filipinos are based in the critical areas of Damascus, Homs, Daraa, Aleppo, and Idlib.
The Philippine government has already repatriated more than 2,100 Filipino workers from Syria since it ordered a mandatory evacuation of its nationals there in December.
This came some 10 months after the outbreak of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Other Filipino workers in Syria have fled on their own or with their Syrian employers but the efforts to bring the rest back has been hampered by the lack of documentation of many workers who entered Syria illegally, officials said.
About nine million Filipinos work around the world, earning more money in a wide range of skilled and unskilled jobs abroad than they could in their impoverished homeland.